The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

It’s Time to Declare Victory: The Charlottesville Food Community Overcomes COVID-19

A year ago today, March 16, 2020, this site launched the Culture of Takeout. The premise was a simple win-win: help save Charlottesville restaurants while brightening lives of seclusion with a restaurant meal at home. At the time, and for every day since, our restaurants have faced an existential threat from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Will our food community survive?

One year later, we have our answer. For all its havoc, for all its devastation, for all its pain, this virus could not defeat the Charlottesville food community. Yes, we lost beloved institutions. Yes, our restaurants faced greater anguish than ever before. Tears. Heartbreak. But, no, COVID-19, you did not destroy us.

Why did the Charlottesville food community prevail? Among myriad reasons, surely the biggest is heart.

A common theme on this site over the years is the heart of the Charlottesville food community. It is a talented bunch. And driven. And passionate. But, to quote a 2017 article:

If you want to understand Charlottesville’s food community, you need to know its heart . . . No virtue stands out more.

In the Charlottesville food community, if one has a need others rush to fill it. While that has long been the case, we now know it remains true even as a pandemic threatens the community’s very existence. Though dangling by a thread themselves, restaurants still did everything they could to help their peers. They lifted them up, they celebrated them, and they lent whatever help they could. There are too many examples to mention, but one story from early in the pandemic captures it well.

It started when an anonymous philanthropist began purchasing $10K or $15K worth of $50 gift cards from area restaurants and giving them to deserving recipients like frontline workers and people in need. A brilliant win-win with a philosophy not unlike the Culture of Takeout, the campaign injected urgently needed cash flow into restaurants, while brightening lives.

Two restaurant owners, though, declined the gift certificate purchases. While the pandemic had devastated their businesses and while $15K would have gone a long way to help them weather the storm, they could not bring themselves to accept such a large cash outlay while others suffered more. “Thank you, we appreciate it,” they said. “But, while we are hurting, we are going to make it. We would rather this money go to a restaurant in greater peril.”

Culture of Takeout One Year Later

The virus is subsiding. Vaccinations grow by the day. Spring is almost here. And in sight is the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

The coronavirus has been a formidable foe. We are battered, bruised, and, in some ways, changed forever. And, we pour one out for casualties lost along the way. But, COVID-19, the Charlottesville food community has a message for you: we win.

Charlottesville 2021 Best Food Truck/Stand: Basan

In 2020, the award for Best Food Truck/Stand went to Sussex Farm, run by Jen Naylor. This year, the honor goes to the food truck run by Naylor’s daughter Kelsey and her partner Anna Gardner: Basan.

As with Sussex Farm, Basan is all about love — a love of food, one another, and sharing food with others. After Naylor and Gardner each spent years cooking at some of Charlottesville’s top restaurants (Naylor at Public, L’etoile, TEN, The Alley Light; Gardner at Public, The Ivy Inn, Junction, Oakhurst Inn), their love of Japanese cuisine took them to a year abroad, where they lived in the small rural Japanese city Miyakonojo. There they found a close-knit and hospitable community eager to share their culture. One friendly local named Yuki invited Naylor to took cook at her local izakaya – an informal bar that serves small bites to enjoy with drinks. A crash course in Japanese cooking, Naylor loved it. And, her love of Japanese food only grew.

When Naylor and Gardner returned to Virginia, they initially opened a pizza business, Pye Dog Pizza, an instant smash that allowed them to explore their creativity. Despite its success, their passion for Japanese food beckoned. And so, in 2020, Basan was born. “Basan in a lot of ways is shaped by the meals we cooked in our apartment in Miyakonojo, for ourselves, for Yuki, and for other friends,” said Naylor.

The menu is built around ramen and Japanese-style nuggets of karaage and katsu.

As delicious as these staples are, though, it is the weekly specials that draw crowds lining up to get one before they are gone. The love really shows. “I started cooking to my taste, and my memories, and the taste of the people that I love,” said Naylor. “That’s where the specials come from. Does the idea of this make us feel something?”

Duck wing gyoza – duck wing flats stuffed with dumpling filling

Bacon stick with fish sauce caramel and pork floss.

Kurobuta Tonkatsu Tomahawk with ume bordelaise

Keeping the front of the house straight and cheerful is industry veteran Job Bray, who sometimes gets in on the cooking too, bringing some Filipino flair.

Pork and shrimp lumpia with garlic, ginger, scallion, and dates. Served with a jufran (banana ketchup) sweet and sour.

Charlottesville is blessed with many outstanding food trucks. Among a stellar group of finalists, the 2021 Best Food Truck/Stand is Basan.


Tribute to Tristan: The Charlottesville Food Community Remembers Chef Tristan Phillips

This week the Charlottesville food community lost a young chef, far too soon. A lover of food, Tristan Phillips cooked at favorites like C&O, The Inn at Willow Grove, and Pippin Hill. Here, friends in the Charlottesville food community share treasured memories of Phillips’ life, through food.

A fundraiser has been established in Phillips memory. Info and donations here.

Daniel Watkins: “Back in June of 2019 Tristan and I set out on a trip up and down the east coast to follow a string of concerts. Tristan’s passion for food always led us to the best local restaurants everywhere we went, but my favorite memory was a simple concession stand sandwich I got to share with him at a Phish show in Maryland. Of course it was a pretty mediocre sandwich, and we did miss a couple of our favorite songs standing in line, but it was the most fun of the whole trip. Dancing and eating outside on one of the most beautiful days we had the pleasure of experiencing together. No matter where we were, what we were doing, or what we were eating, as long as I was with my best friend I was happy. I’m forever gonna miss Tristan and treasure the moments I got to share with him, and I know he’s in a better place.”

Drew Reynolds: “Tristan and I met back in high school, and he quickly showed me how passionate he was about cooking. Cooking was something I’d thought about for a career for a long time but I still say Tristan was the final and driving factor towards that decision. We would push each other sometimes to breaking points trying to get the best out of one another, and if there’s one thing I’ll never be as good as him at, it’s cooking a damn good steak. But this story isn’t about steak. My favorite food memory that Tristan and I got to share was so much simpler than grill cooking and the hustle and bustle of Saturday night service. Tristan and I had the same days off from C&O which made for some really fun ‘weekend.’  One weekend in particular our friend Danny had the same days off too. We were like the three musketeers and until we all got separate jobs it was hard to find one of us without the other two or at least one. This fine ‘weekend’ we all made it a point we were going to cook together. We all carpooled to Wegmans and probably spent a good two hours just wandering and pondering what we might fix. We decided on branzino. We bought a beautiful fish and some veggies, and set back for my place. We spent the whole afternoon cooking the fish over a fire, making a nice cioppino and enjoying a delicious meal together while outside basking in the sun. We drank beers until we all passed out in the basement of my house later that day, and shared funny stories both from our pasts or service experiences or anything else you can think of. It was pretty common for my two best friends to come over and eat something my mom or I had fixed, going back to when we met in high school, but it was rare we got to prepare and enjoy a whole meal together. I think of that meal every time I’m lucky enough to have branzino, and I doubt it’s a memory I’ll ever forget. Just as I doubt I’ll ever have a better grill cook/best friend behind me on the line. I love you little brother, and you are greatly, greatly missed. Rest easy, we know you’re watching to make sure we don’t overcook our steaks.”

Cecily Reynolds: “Tristan was a one-of-a-kind, with a huge beaming smile and an easy-going manner, always ready to laugh. One of my son’s besties, he was another son in my household, and I never knew when he’d just show up. Every time he would, though, there would be much discussion of food: what we’d been making recently, what we’d been eating recently,  and bouncing new ideas off of each other for what we’d make next. One way I could always ‘conjure’ him to show up unannounced was to make my country ribs, which was one of his favorite dishes of mine, and a great comfort food for him. Every single time I made them, no matter what, we NEVER had to tell him they were in the oven, he would just appear out of nowhere and happily consume huge quantities of them and take a ‘to-go’ container home with him, too. I will especially miss frequenting restaurants at which he was working, and especially miss already the days when he and Drew were at the C&O, as watching him bring out dishes he had especially prepared for me brought him a joy that was indescribable. He loved food, music, his friends, life, and living, and he sure will leave a great big hole in our hearts. But every time I make those ribs, I’ll still listen for his car and expect to see him pop through that door with a huge smile and a hungry stomach. Fly high, Tristan, may you Rest in Paradise.”

Emmanuelle Kahn: “Tristan, Drew and I would often take off to Lampo after weekend shifts at the C&O Restaurant. It was a place for us to talk and wind down after a long shift. As the former Chef De Cuisine of the C&O and Tristan a former Line Cook, I often wanted him to try dishes that he normally didn’t have exposure to. Escarole was one of those dishes. Tristan loved that dish, as did I. Escarole became his regular go to side dish at Lampo. Tristan, Drew, and I indulged many nights at Lampo with cheese plates, pizzas, meatballs, Brussels, olives, sandwiches, and of course Tristan’s favorite – Zeppole (ricotta doughnuts). Tristan was a talented cook who had an innate sense of how to make an exemplary dish. He chose quality over quantity every time. He will live on forever in me with his gentle heart. He will be missed dearly. “

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